Indy Racing League Sun Trust Indy Challenge June 26, 2004 Dan Wheldon, Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Vitor Meira, Brian Barnhart Part 2 of 2 THE MODERATOR: We finally have our winner, driver and owner on hand. Winner of our SunTrust...
Indy Racing League Sun Trust Indy Challenge June 26, 2004
Dan Wheldon, Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Vitor Meira, Brian Barnhart
Part 2 of 2
THE MODERATOR: We finally have our winner, driver and owner on hand. Winner of our SunTrust Indy Challenge tonight, Dan Wheldon is with us, and team owner Michael Andretti.
We'll open up the floor for questions.
Q: Is this a case where maybe the fastest car didn't win, but it was the smartest strategy?
DAN WHELDON: Well, I think every time that you get into an Andretti Green (Racing) car, you know it's always going to be relatively strong. I do agree with you, I don't think I had the quickest car today, but what helped me during the race was the fact I could run a lot of laps on the Firestones, and the car just seemed to keep getting better and better. More importantly, the rear end was secure.
But, you know, with the teammates I have, I harp on about it, you guys probably get fed up with it, but when you qualify 20th, and you're able to come through and win, it's their help that really does it. Obviously, Tony (Cotman) called an excellent race, and (engineer) Eddie Jones kind of turned our car around.
It's a whole team effort. I have to say that's the beauty of driving for the team. That's what makes it successful. But I think, obviously, there's still a lot of races to go and we've got to keep focused on trying to win the championship.
THE MODERATOR: Michael?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: For sure, sometimes you need a little luck. But I think if you look at Dan during the race, he passed a lot of cars. Even when he was in the back, he would always get close to the front.
But obviously, at a little place like this, track position is king. Tony made a great call, fairly early in the race, that put Dan a little different than the other guys. The way the cautions fell, it ended up working for him. He had the track position. From that point on, he did the best with it, he held it. I'm not sure anybody would have been able to pass Dan at that point.
It's a little luck, but also good strategy. The car was still good enough to win the race. He was still holding them off. Dan did a great job the whole race, as well.
Q: How close were you to going a lap down in the race early? Like (Dario) Franchitti, was your car better when you were out in front?
DAN WHELDON: Well, you know, I got a little story for this one. They told me during our pre-race meeting that we have, where we talk about strategy, they said there's a probable chance you are going to go a lap down early in the race, what Tony was talking about with what he's going to do on the strategy. But he said, "Don't panic." I was primed not to panic. As soon as I saw Hornish coming, I was like, "Here we go."
He passed me, I definitely freaked out a little bit. I never like being a lap down. But once they explained to me again in the car what we needed to do, how we needed to do it, the kind of made sense. So I just got into a rhythm.
I was kind of fortunate all night. I was not in traffic too much. The traffic that I came up to, I was able to pass very quickly and run in clean air. The laps that I was doing when I was running were pretty competitive. That gave me track position.
But, yeah, I did go a lap down. Like I say, when I was running, I was pretty much in clean air. My car was really balanced throughout the race, whether in traffic or on my own.
Q: Do you really have time when you're out there in this sort of environment to listen to your spotter, to think about the strategy, that sort of thing?
DAN WHELDON: To be honest, with the way the league is, you've got to run as hard as you possibly can throughout the whole race. There's times where you need to conserve your outside rear, and there's times where you perhaps just need to take it easy. But you're still driving 100 percent
So I wouldn't certainly with where I qualified, there wasn't any particular laps where I was driving any harder. I had to drive real hard throughout the race. But that's what makes the championship exciting. Our four cars are very, very strong. I mean, I could name 10 others that could potentially win a race. That's what makes the series very exciting for me.
Q: Who recommended you do the donuts that you said you didn't know how to do? Why do you call Tony "The Brother"?
DAN WHELDON: I don't know why I call him "The Brother". He's always been called "The Brother". I have no idea why I call him that.
I wanted to try and do good donuts. I didn't do them at Motegi, so I needed to try to perform well. It was nice listening to that Honda run at 10,300 (RPM) for about a minute non stop. I was going to try and leave the one where you kind of slide up the track. I think they do that in NASCAR. That wasn't going to work. That's why I did the regular one.
That's what I meant where I didn't know how to do it, that one.
Q: Michael, when the postscript is written for the Sun Trust Indy Challenge tonight, can we say, "Don't count out Andretti Green"? Last night, I saw the looks on your faces with the 26 car. Could we say something like that, don't count you out?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. This team is a very strong team. I even told Dan, "These are the weekends that make a championship. When you're really down and you think you're out, it all depends how you focus and how you get out of it." Dan and the whole team did a great job doing it. That shows a championship winning team.
For sure, don't ever count them out, or any of the other three cars, as well.
Q: How many times were you on the other end of a strategy like this when you had the fastest car but didn't come out in front?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, probably one or two times, or three or four, 10, 12, I don't know, 20. Quite a few (laughter).
Q: Dan, we were talking with Helio and Vitor earlier. They said this is one of the most physical races they've ever run. What are your feelings about the difficulty of this race?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, well, I think whenever you come to Richmond, it's certainly different for me coming from Europe. When I first pulled into the track last year, I thought it was a go kart track.
It's much better I think this year now that they've repaved. I think they did an excellent job with that. Seemed like last year they strategically placed the bumps in the place where it was more than likely going to cause the driver a lot of grief. I'm glad it was repaved.
It's a very tough race I would say not only physically, but also mentally. You normally run around a lot of cars. I didn't this year. But it's difficult to overtake, but you can overtake. When you're doing it you're often putting a lot on the line so you got to make sure you're decisive, aggressive but not overaggressive, you get the move done and then move on to the next. It's certainly like a little bull ring.
I just think the IndyCar (Series), the race on TV looked very, very good. I'm sure it made the NASCAR race here look very boring, which is good.
Q: Did you get your lap back, did you pass Hornish before the debris caution?
DAN WHELDON: I got waved around.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The yellow came out again, then he was able to pit and stay on the same lap.
Q: Michael, is this the kind of day you're glad you're not a driver, going around in 15 seconds?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: But, yeah, I got to say, when you have four of them out there, sitting, watching them go into turn one, you don't know how many times I had to hold my breath. I was dizzy from holding it so much.
I'm definitely happy with my decision. I wasn't wishing I was out there at all, but yet I was a little nervous on the sideline.
Q: The fuel strategy, how close was it? How many more laps do you think you would have been able to do?
DAN WHELDON: It was enough for a lot of donuts.
I think ever since I've joined this team and had "The Brother" call my race, I don't think there's ever been a race where I've come in with a lot of fuel. I'm sure it was minimal. But it tends to be always the case. You think I mean, now I'm used to him. I understand like some of the things he tries to do. When I first turned up, I was like, "Man, this guy is crazy." He really can pull it off.
That's the good thing about being on this team, you can bounce things off one another. The engineers work very well. It's not just the drivers that get on along as well as we do. People talk about having a close knit environment. This is a genuine close knit environment which gives all four drivers an opportunity to race.
Q: When the yellow came out on 246, were you surprised with the one lap shootout? Did you think it was over?
DAN WHELDON: No, because there wasn't a big accident. I knew (IRL Sr. Vice President) Brian (Barnhart) would want to try to finish it under green.
When that yellow came out, I just focused and made sure that I got a good restart. I'm not necessarily sure it was my best, but fortunately Helio was having a go at Vitor, so that took the emphasis off me and I was able to just kind of get through one and two clean and bring it home.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thanks for your time. Michael, congratulations, and Danny to you as well.
DAN WHELDON: Thank you.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Brian Barnhart, the IRL's senior vice president of racing operations, who has a statement.
BRIAN BARNHART: What we did at the finish of the race in trying to get a green flag finish, when we threw the green white to do a one lap finish, the track lights did not change, and they stayed yellow the entire time. Because of that, we are not allowing the passes of the 3 car (Castroneves) around the 17 (Meira) or the 11 car (Tony Kanaan) around the 7 (Bryan Herta). The finishing order of the race will be as the cars ran across the line on lap 249. We'll finish the race under caution. Because the caution lights were on, we finish the race as a caution lap on lap 250, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Any questions?
Q: The question is asking us to review the process we went through this evening.
BRIAN BARNHART: Before or after the race? We saw something from race control up top. The track caution lights are controlled by a switch in the flag stand. So the flagman is in control of the flags and the track caution lights. We obviously had a situation with a late caution there. We tried to get the race restarted for the race fans and get a green flag finish.
We gave a quick one to go, the pace car pulled off, the 26 (Wheldon) set the pace down the backstretch. As he hit the restart zone, we waved the green white.
In the confusion, and in trying to get a late green flag restart, for whatever reason, there's no excuse for it, the light did not switch, so the track lights remained yellow. In as much as I admonish the drivers to respond to the first indicator of a caution, whether it's their dash lights, the track lights or the flagman, I can't ignore it. If the track lights are yellow, then we should not be racing and changing positions. The track lights stayed yellow, and that's the way we finished the race.
Q: (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: The dash lights were off. We have multiple indicators of cautions. That's for a reason. It's in the interest of safety. In as much as we hammer these guys to respond to an indicator of the caution, if the track lights of yellow, you shouldn't be racing people.
Q: (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: I don't think it will cause a review. We're all human. There's a human element of every aspect of sport out there, whether it's baseball, basketball, football or racing. We don't get time outs. We got to do things on the fly.
As I mentioned before when I was up in race control, we waved the green, I watched the field go down into one, I saw the track lights still yellow. I was yelling on the radio right away. It was too late. If a guy sees a yellow, he's supposed to lift, slow down. I talked to both starters to try to see if there was any situation.
Like I say, it doesn't make an excuse for it. But part of it was a hectic rush to try to get a green flag finish for it. Doesn't make up for it, doesn't make it right. It's a human element of what we do. The one thing we do I think we instantly admitted it was a mistake, and I think we've corrected the way it should be. That is the proper order of finish. I can't ask the guys to do one thing, then when it presents itself on the racetrack to do something different. That's how we finished it.
Q: (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: It was actually self review. Coming out of race control, I had called down to the truck and asked. I had called timing & scoring. I wanted the subsequently running order on lap 249 as well as lap 250. I got the sheet and asked for who had changed positions. It was actually an Andretti Green team, 7 Eleven, teammates, then the Penske and Rahal teams. They met me in the truck.
Again, I think they were all very understanding. There wasn't a whole lot of complaining about it. Just one of those unfortunate things.
Q: (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: Tough little racetrack like this, there's a lot of things I think I saw tonight that we'll do our normal review process and see. I think there's a high frustration level with Sam (Hornish) at that point in time. I was a little disappointed in the aggressiveness, being four laps down with the last 25 laps and interfering with guys who were in a position to contend with the race win. I think some better judgment could have been used at that point in time, a little more restraint would have probably been more in order. I'll have to take a look at that and talk to Sam after that.
There's others. It's a tough racetrack. A three quarter mile racetrack, as much activity, the tempers that flare are no different than us here or the Cup cars at Bristol. Guys get competitive. We'll sit down and have a few conversations with them before we move to Kansas.